Friday, September 5, 2008

This Is Not America...NO

Welcome to St. Paul

As the subtitle of my blog suggests, this is a blog regarding Rawk-and-Roll and "Other Delights" Up until this point, It's been just the rawk, but after being placed in the center of the political world this week, I actually have some thoughts, mostly non-music related.

Man...I'm glad the conventions are over. I'm glad the riot police have left my quiet town of St. Paul. It was quite frightening to be in St. Paul this's as close to a police state that I'd ever been in and I never want to see it again. Sure, I understand that there were a couple of knuckleheads intent on damaging property, but if you were anywhere outside in St. Paul this week, it's hard to not think of the presence of police in my quiet city as "Overkill". Thousands of riot police with gas masks, M-16's, and other intimitating "equipment" on every street corner, staring your down to see if you were "different looking." Also, the snipers on the tops of some of the buildings left me uncomfortable.

I made it to the "Take Back Labor Day" rally at Harriet Island on Monday. I had a great time seeing a couple of my favorite singer-songwriters, Billy Bragg and Steve Earle. Unfortunately, hip hop acts were the headliners and the most talented guys started the day with very short, but nonetheless memorable sets, that were heavily inspired by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. I would estimate that there were around 25,000 people at the rally, which was very peaceful and inspiring. However, as the hip hop acts hit the stage and as the temperature was reaching 90 degrees, I walked over to the Mississippi river (still within earshot of the stage) and looked across the river towards downtown. There...a different scene altogether. There were at least 300 riot police, lots of teargas and smoke, and one ambulance after another taking people away. I understand that some of them were destroying property, but the contrast of scenes, from one side of the river to the other, was quite shocking. I didn't like it.

The next day, Rage Against the Machine, was supposed to play an "unnanounced" show at the State Capital, during a rally that included the rock band Anti-Flag. The rally had a permit to go until a certain hour. Say what you will about Rage Against the Machine and their fans (I did, read my previous post below), but they're just a rock and roll band....they're not terrorists.

Observers at the rally reported that riot police were asking the rally organizers all day, "Is Rage Against the Machine going to play?" as if they were terrified that a rock band would show up to a rock concert. When Rage Against the Machine did show up, well before the permit to rally was to expire, the police "held" the band members and prevented them from gettting to the stage. When the band finally made it to the stage, the police had cut all of the power to the stage so that they couldn't perform a "free show".


In response, lead singer, Zach de La Rocha, grabbed a bullhorn and the band performed A capella. You can see Minnesota Public Radio's video of what transpired below.

The next day, Rage Against the Machine, played a "sold out" show at Minneapolis' Target Center in front of 15,000 fans. Reports stated that 1,000 riot police showed up before the show and stayed until the last fan was run out of downtown. There were no reports of any damage caused by the Rage fans. Overkill?

Last night, while driving home from work, I caught a report on a local radio station that riot police had showed up to an Anti-War rally at the State Capitol and that there was "trouble brewing" I changed clothes and headed down to check it out. Reports stated that there was a standoff on the John Ireland Bridge that crosses Interstate 94. I parked my car by the St. Paul Cathedral and walked until I was turned back by riot police, FBI, and Secret Service. I made it to the corner of John Ireland Blvd and Kellogg Blvd. They had surrounded the Anti-War protesters on the bridge. There were hundreds, if not a thousand riot police all with "gas masks" on. I thought I was going to witness something bad. Soon, the police brought in "snow plows", lined up at each end of John Ireland Blvd. I thought they were going to plow the protesters off the bridge. My uneasiness in the presence of many hundreds of "storm troopers" got worse as "bomb squad" vehicles started showing up. An MTC city bus, had changed it's destination ticker to "Police Bus"...apparently, they needed a large bus to take not-yet-arrested protesters away.

An observer said that the riot police were upset when they were informed that tear gas is heavier than air and that if tear gas was dispensed on the bridge, it would fall down below the bridge and onto passing motorists on I-94. My vantage points was quite far away, so I wasn't able to view the exact tactics of the riot police, but I did notice that the Anti-War rally particpants had moved off the bridge quite quickly. As the protesters and the front-lines of the riot police had moved away from the bridge, I decided to head home. I followed live updates of the protest on a blog. Apparently, for the next three hours, the riot police had chased the Anti-War protesters around St. Paul, preventing them from heading to the ironically-named "free speech zone" near the Xcel Energy Center, where presidential hopefull, John McCain was going to be delivering his acceptance speech.

Around 8:00, live bloggers were reporting "tear gas" and "shock grenades" were being used on the protesters at University Aveneue and Rice St.

I couldn't stand watching Cindy McCain's speech about how she went to Bangladesh and saw a cute puppy/child in the window and how she wanted to possess that puppy/child as if it were simply an accumulation of compassion that she could parade in front of her country-club friends. I was getting sick watching these candidates parading their unwilling families (I'm mostly referring to the poor kid who knocked up the Alaskan Governors' daughter and now looks headed to an arranged marriage) around as if to say..."Hey, look at our family...we're just like you". Sorry, but nobody in my family has pet names, such as Trig, Track, Willow, Piper, and Bristol. My sister has a Shih Tzu named "Piper," however. While I was watching this, I stumbled upon a Vanity Fair article about the cost of Cindy McCain's "banana" outfit from Tuesday night. The outfit, according to experts who know high-end clothing, estimate that the outfit at costing over $300,000. Yes, Cindy....You and your husband, who has no clue how many houses he owns.....are just "regular folks" like me. Good grief.

So after nearly vommiting during Cindy's speech, I decided to check out what was happening at University and Rice. When I got there, there was still smoke in the air, riot police all over with many walking down the streets with M-16's. Marion St. was blocked off. I would later find out that they had over 300 people surrounded on the Marion St. Bridge. Everybody on the bridge was told to "sit down and put your hands on your head.....Everybody on the bridge is going to be arrested." There were 19 journalists on the bridge and they were arrested too.

Coverage of the Convention

I've been a political junkie for most of my life. I went to my first caucus (as a school assignment) in 1979 prior to the Carter-Reagan election. I've worked on three political campaigns in my life starting with Seattle Mayor Norm Rice's failed run at Governor of the State of Washington in the mid 90's. In 2004, I became a delegate for the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party in Minnesota and attended some conventions. It wasn't a good experience, as groupthink, rather than rational and logical decision making, was the name of the game. Follow the leader as they say, regardless if it's a good idea. I guess I've never felt comfortable in large groups as usually the dumbest people are generally the loudest (Bill O'Reilly?), and then the mob follows dumb.

So, during these conventions, I've been flipping around the various channels (PBS, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC), watching political talking heads "stay on message" and repeat their "talking points." It's mostly a frustrating excersise watching people repeat the same slogans, but occasionally, someone will say something insightful. I generally don't expect to hear anything insightful on Fox as Fox is the Pravda of the United States. Basically, a media empire with the job of providing propaganda for the Republican party. "Fair and Balanced" they are not. "We Report...You Decide" is another laughable slogan of the Faux Network. However, I still do watch the network out of pure interest in political strategy and how political parties present their message.

Fox News was basically made up of second-rate reporters, who didn't succeed elsewhere, but were willing "Republican Soldiers", ready to fight Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch (yes..the guy with a large hand in American politics is a foreigner) and Roger Ailes' media war. Brit Hume was on ABC, but his "droopy" personality didn't keep viewers tuned in. Bill O'Reilly came from the "gossip-celebrity" news show, "Inside Edition".....not exactly respected in the media world for their journalism. Sean Hannity was a Rush Limbaugh wannabee, who wasn't known before being hired at Fox.

Fox News basically chugged along, providing second-rate gossip-celebrity news combined with the Republican talking points, straight from the "Drudge Report". Like Drudge, Fox News is never shy about covering important news like the "Two-headed Indian Child" or the "Hot High School Teacher Having Sex With Her Students."

Why the rant on Fox News?

Because they've had a significant impact on today's media.....and I would argue that it's for the worst.

Fox News really became a player on September 11th, 2001. As a student of history, I'm very aware of the attraction of "Nationalism" when countries are experiencing tough times and uncertainty. Our country was under attack and Fox News' "nationalistic" coverage was highly appealing to many Americans.

Fox News' "nationalistic" and "opinionated" strategy was successful in the ratings game. Soon, MSNBC would fire the host of their highest-rated show, Phil Donahue, because of his anti-war and liberal views. His show was replaced by the loathsome human being and all-around far right-wing blowhard, Michael Savage, who would soon be fired for being a dickhead and saying something unconsiounable...surprise? CNN soon started hiring more conservatives to their already conservative lineup. Douchebag and flamboyant toe-tappers like Glenn Beck started getting their own shows and MSNBC went more conservative.

Schizophrenic Chris Matthews, who at one time was a conservative, supporting Barry Goldwater, before he became a staffer for Democrat Tip O'Neil, had once again become a conservative, gushing about George W. Bush and how "Bush belongs on Mt. Rushmore" following Bush's famous or infamous "Mission Accomplished" photo op on the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier. Yes...that dasterdly, liberal media had control of the airwaves.

Over the past couple of years, the Republican stranglehold of the media has lightened as failed Republican party policies, Bush's low approval ratings, mounting debt, and the public's unfavorable view of the Iraq War were catching the "suits" attention. MSNBC, offered up the liberal answer to Bill O'Reilly. Keith Olbermann was refreshing as a lone wolf, using "facts" and others' own words to make a strong case for the Democrats. Sure, his very powerful rants sometimes went overboard with faux disgust, but it's hard to argue with someone who uses "evidence" rather than rhetoric as his weapon. Schizophrenic, once again, Matthews, looked as though he had switched affiliations once again, after his "Mt. Rushmore" candidate had hit 29% in the approval polls. My guess is that he became more moderate, when he realized he had a hard time championing somebody that only 29% of the people liked. The media game is a business, and it's not profitable to be on the losing side.

Now to the conventions of the past few weeks.....Please kill me....I can't take it any more.

MSNBC looks like it's about to implode as they are turning in their journalist badges for cheerleader outfits. Chris Matthews, once again nearly trips over his tongue everytime he expresses his man-crush on John McCain. I nearly started a drinking game, in which I would take a drink every time Matthews said McCain is a "maverick", except I didn't want to be rushed to the hospital to have my stomach pumped. I've got news for you Matthews. When you vote 95% of the time with your party and the sitting president of your own party, that does not make you a makes you the opposite. "Conformist" is far more accurate of a term. In fact, considering that 29% of American's agree with McCain's positions, "Conformist with very bad judgement" might be even more accurate.
One Republican delegate had the misfortune of being caught in front of 45 million viewers displaying his mispelled "THE MAVRICK" sign. I'm guessing he was educated in the conservative-controlled south. My friend, Chris, who's a school teacher in that part of the country, told me that pencils are referred to as "writing sticks," but I digress.

Olbermann, on the other hand, is trying to counteract Matthews (with the exception of calling him on his use of the word maverick), by trumpeting his candidates with sligtly dimissive comments to his co-workers. Olbermann and Matthews have been going at it (I don't think I've seen Matthews as flustered looking and looking like he just got finished with the frat boy game of "follow the elephant" ever before). He looks disheveled and confused. Conservative Joe Scarborough has nearly come to blows with moderate David Shuster as well as Olbermann. It's a god-damn three ring circus over there at MSNBC, with the exception of the two most unlikely partners, Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow. Buchanan, who I've loathed for years, actually is fairly reasonable on his assessments (hate to break it to you liberals and conservatives, but Buchanan opposed the Iraq War), although Pat must have got the "fall in line" memo from the tuffs of the Republican party, because he changed his tune on Sarah Palin in unbelievably quick time. Rachal Maddow is also reasonable and does a good and most importantly "civil" job of making her points. She's very intelligent and it will be interesting to see how she handles her own show after taking over for "law nerd" Dan Abrams' spot.
Editors Update: As of September 8th, MSNBC has pulled the two cheerleaders, Olbermann and Matthews, from their election coverage host positions and replaced them with David Gregory. Olbermann and Mathews will still remain on as contributors.

CNN, although not the three ring circus of MSNBC, still has Wolf Blitzer as their main guy. Wolf isn't the most politically astute observer and constantly lets talking heads repeat their drivel, unquestioned, no matter how deceptive.

I have found a new person I respect at CNN and I'm quite shocked of who it is. David Gergen, who's been a political strategist for the Republican party for nearly 30 years, is actually one of the few voices on the major cable news networks that is actually reasonable and doing his job, which is to analyze the convention scientifically and not from a point-of-view and "civily". He doesn't fall in line with the mob...he wasn't blow away by the bible-thumping, flat-earth-society, book burning, aw shucks Sarah Palin's, sarcastic and non-informative speech. Gergen actually discusses issues, not personalities. He looks at facts, evidence, not trivial things. A mustached Republican talking head on CNN (I don't remember his name) inferred last night that Gergen was a traitor to the Republican party because he didn't fall in line with the "talking points."

David Gergen, although I'm his political opposite, is what America and more importantly the American media needs at this time, civility and fair-mindedness. Since the popularity of the Fox News network, the national media has been slouching with jingoism, controversy, party-based opinion, and uncivil discussion (I'm looking at you Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity...well hell...all of Fox News). During this time, America has become less focused on "the issues" and more focused on "personality". Unfortunately, I think this election will once again be based on personality and not issues. After all, do most Americans really support global-warming deniers, book burners, gun nuts, science haters, and abstinence-only progams? Of course not. On the other hand, if you put the issues aside, like the major media has done for the last week, you find a "personality" slightly attractive, tough-talking, "regular-kind-of gal" or "hockey mom" (whatever that means to the 95% of the country who woundn't know the difference between a blue line and a dance line). You also find a "war hero" and a so-called "maverick." You also find a great "orator." These are media-created personality traits....not issues or policy positions.

Over the last 10 years, this country has been slouching. NASCAR, a sport that involves automobiles making left-hand turns for hours, is now the "national sport". Ultimate Fighting is hugely popular. Reality television is hugely popular, where "regular" folks can unearth their dirty laundry for 15 minutes of fame.

Speaking of "regular folks"....why is it that being a "regular person," someone "who you could sit down and have a beer with" is now a requirement for the most important job in the world, President of the United States?


I want somebody "extraordiary" running the greatest country in the world. I want somebody who has accomplishments, did well in school, went to the best schools, and is "smarter" than me. We've slouched so far, that we now have a inferiority complex and think that anybody that is accomplished is an "elitist". If you were the President of the Harvard Law Review, you are now considered "elitist," who has a "fancy degree" and thus unqualified for President. People who don't think that chain restaurants, such as Applebees, are considered "fine dining" are now called "elitists". Barack Obama had to play the god-awful "mall country" music of Brooks and Dunn following his speech in Denver to appeal to the "envious" NASCAR crowd. This inferiority complex in the country has got to stop! We need higher standards for our leaders....being a "folksy" swell guy or gal...shouldn't be the basis for how we elect leaders.

Additionally, network news has become incredibly biased, uncivil, and absolutely unhealthy. As Jon Stewert told Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala a few years ago on CNN..."Stop it...Just Stop it....You're hurting America!!"

And to the people who think patriotism is controlled by one party and that meaningless slogans and whether a candidate wears an American Flag pin on their suit is important (in case you missed it, John McCain didn't wear one last night, which means, apparently, he is an unpatriotic sonofabitch)....I say this.

When you love want it to be the best it can be. You correct it when it deviates off track, you support it when it does well. You wish it to be the best it can be. That's the way I feel about this country. I love the United States of America, but this week was particularly sad for me as something I love desperately needs correction.

While standing on the corner of John Ireland Blvd and Kellogg Blvd watching men with gas masks, M-16s, bomb squads, prison buses, and snow plows, all ready to take on some relatively harmless vegan bohemians carrying paper signs stating their desire for peace, a loudspeaker behind me was blasting David Bowie's "This is Not America".

I can't get that song out of my head.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing some eyewitness accounts. I watched and read a lot of coverage and heard nil about the neo-fascists herding skinny hippies into "free speech zones". While the talking heads embarrass themselves repeating talking points, trying to find any ridiculous trivia to "report" in an attempt to fill the hours of airtime cable news requires, none of them had the nuts to report resistance to power. What a sad state of affairs. It angers me that being intelligent, and deciding to think and read is considered elitist. "Sarah Palin doesn't read!!, We love her. She's just like us!!" What the fuck is the matter? The pundits and most politicians are no different than the bullies in middle school. Stupid, loud mouthed idiots with little to say but whom everyone followed out of ignorance and fear. Thanks for the shout out. I have to say, I have quite a few intelligent students and the influx of outsiders to the Asheville area makes things a little more diverse, but yes, I still see a population that regards education with nothing but contempt. CS

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